Friday 22 February 2013

#FridayFlash - Cara Vs The Rabids

The lift lurched to a halt between the 28th and 29th floors, pitching Cara to the floor. The impact caused her watch to stop at exactly 11:53pm.

She swore, but a stopped watch was the least of her worries. In a normal lift in a normal building, she'd try to contact someone, and wait for help. She call a friend to pass the time. But this was a lift in Coleridge House, a notorious tower block at the centre of a strip of no man's land between the affluent Shelley Vale and the derelict slums of Pelling. The area lost all mobile coverage months ago when a group of Ferals brought down the mast to sell for scrap metal. The cable for the lift’s emergency phone dangled out of the wall, its receiver long since gone. Cara pressed buttons but nothing happened. The only comfort was the emergency lighting - if the Rabids had cut the power to keep the lift dangling, she'd be in total darkness. This must be a power cut.

Cara paced inside the lift, suddenly sensitive to the acrid tang of urine in the warm air. She tried reading the graffiti scrawled on the walls but the incoherent threats made her more nervous. Her eyes returned to the roof hatch. In her mind, Rabids emerged from the sub-basement, skittering through the underground car park. They'd swarm up stained and stinking staircases, drawn by the scent of fear in the south-west elevator shaft.

Cara cursed her sister. If Penn hadn't met that waster at college, she never would have bounced down the social ladder. She'd never have landed in the cesspool that was Coleridge House and Cara wouldn't be stuck in a lift at seven minutes to midnight like a sacrificial lamb waiting for the priest to arrive.

Unwilling to wait for Death, Cara scrabbled at the tiny gap between the doors. Being a badly maintained lift in a crumbling tower block, the doors didn’t close fully before the lift moved, and Cara managed to wiggle her fingers into the space. She threw her weight backwards, heaving on the right hand door.

The doors parted with a protesting whine, and she eased them apart by a foot. The lift was stopped directly between the floors, too high for her to clamber up to crawl out onto the 29th floor. She’d have to go the other way. She tossed her bag out of the lift, and sat down, inching across the lift until her legs dangled into the gap. Cara wriggled forward, bending backwards to get her body between the 28th floor ceiling and the lift floor.

She slithered free, jarring her right knee as she landed. Cara snatched up her bag and looked around the corridor. More graffiti adorned the walls, and the air smelled of stale weed. A row of battered security doors faced her, barring access to the cramped and badly lit flats of the block. No inhabitants opened their doors – the whole floor had a peculiar, abandoned feel.

Cara walked towards the stairwell, and froze. Growling came from the darkness below, accompanied by a scent of old blood mixed with filth. The Rabids were loose. There was no way she could go downstairs.
Cara bolted up the stairs, taking them three at a time. She paused on her sister’s floor and heard snarling around the corner of the stairwell. The Rabids had swarmed up the four staircases and were now prowling the block looking for easy pickings, only the inhabitants were locked in their homes.

Which just leaves me. 

Only one option remained, and Cara threw herself upwards with new speed. Frenzied snarls erupted below her, and the sound of talons on concrete made her blood run cold. They’d either heard or smelled her, and they were on their way.

She emerged on the top floor landing. Her muscles burned, screaming for rest, but her body refused, hypnotised by the growling behind her. A narrow ladder rested against the wall, and Cara clambered up. She threw open the door to the roof and pushed herself out into the open air.

The roof was a maze of TV aerials, ventilation shafts and broken tiles. White fingers topped by vicious talons closed around her right ankle, and the growl below turned to crazed laughter. Cara kicked down at her attacker, and the Rabid released its grip. Cara seized her opportunity and ran into the roof maze. She grabbed a broken aerial as she passed, determined to arm herself.

She found a solitary patch of moonlight between three air ducts. Her heart hammered as the Rabids swarmed across the roof. They prowled the perimeter of her space, snarling and snapping at each other. Cara clutched the aerial, her hands slick with sweat. Moonlight was only a weak reflection of sunlight, but she hoped it would be enough to deter the pack.

Over the next few hours, the Rabids maintained their distance, lunging whenever a cloud covered the moon. She lashed out with the aerial, sending them back to the pack where other Rabids would fight to lick the blood. An idea formed as the first flames of dawn licked at the eastern horizon.

Cara threw down the aerial and shouted a challenge. The need for blood outweighed their need to find shelter, and they continued to snarl. Rabids at the back fled, whooping as they raced down the stairs, eager to beat the coming sunrise.

Fires broke out among the pack on the roof as sunlight fell on the hunters. Soon Cara couldn’t see for the smoke, or hear anything besides the roar of the flames and the screams of the dying Rabids.

The smoke cleared at 7am, when a distant church tolled the hour. Cara stood surrounded by charred corpses and piles of ash. She picked her way across the roof, and clambered down the ladder. She paused by the south eastern lift and shook her head.

This time, she would take the stairs.

(Elevator photograph by Idac, graffiti added by me)

Monday 18 February 2013

Terry Deary wants to abolish libraries

Newcastle City Library
Last week, I spotted a tweet from Neil Gaiman, calling Terry Deary selfish and avaricious for his attitude towards libraries. He'd included a link to the Guardian's website, so I clicked through to have a look. What I saw shocked me. Deary appears to have a thing against libraries because they're losing him money. According to the article, his books were borrowed more than half a million times during 2011/12, and due to the Public Lending Right scheme, he only made £6,600 from those books. Had he sold them, he'd have made over £180,000. According to him, "The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?"

His main gripes with libraries seem to revolve around cost - both the cost to the tax payer in keeping libraries open, and the cost to the authors and publishers who lose money when books are borrowed, not bought. It seems he puts his right to be paid above public access to information. To put it bluntly, what an arsehole attitude. I originally planned a post that would have potentially blistered paint, but I thought I'd break down his argument that libraries are bad, and explain what he's clearly missing.

1) Books as entertainment.

At one point, Deary makes the point that people wouldn't expect to go to the cinema for free, so why should we let them borrow books for free? The key thing that he's missing is that you cannot equate books with cinema. Books straddle both education and entertainment, and just as many people borrow non-fiction as they do fiction books. One wonders where he finds the books to do the research for his Horrible Histories series. But given the vast number of people who use services like Lovefilm or Netflix to watch films at home at a much lower price than the cinema, it seems Deary is a little behind the times regarding how people spend. Bottom line is, people just don't have that much money. Which leads me on to...

2) The cost of books.

In and of themselves, books are not expensive. However, if you're from a low income family, or you're a student, paying for all the books you want/need is going to get very expensive very quickly. Everyone knows I'm working on my PhD at the moment, and my current chapter is an overview of the horror film from 1897-1978. Just as an example, if I'd bought all the books I needed for a 1000 word section in that chapter on the giallo film, it would have cost me, at a minimum, £136.10. That's just for one small section of a single chapter. I can't afford that! But I can easily borrow the books from the library as and when required. Furthermore, Deary seems to believe that libraries are putting bookshops out of business but I'm sorry, both co-existed quite peacefully until the rise of online shopping. Stores like Amazon are putting bookshops out of business, simply because their product is cheaper. (Incidentally, I've found that the online prices at Waterstones match, and in some cases are lower than, Amazon's, so I've switched from buying at Amazon to buying at Waterstones).

3) Marketing.

Due to the cost of books, people might be put off buying, say, the first in a series in case they don't like it. But how many people might borrow the book from a library, discover they like it, and then go on to buy another book by that author? Allowing people to borrow books is a good way of 'hooking' readers and getting them to buy new books as they're released. I've sometimes borrowed books from libraries and enjoyed them so much that I've bought my own copy. After all, in an interview with the Evening Standard back in April 2012, he was backing a literacy campaign, saying he preferred children to discover his books themselves without being forced to read them by schools. Without libraries, how can children discover these books then? (As a side issue, he also backed a literacy campaign by saying children have never been more literate because they text and use Facebook. Has he ever actually seen a student's work? I suspect not.)

4) What about the other services?

Libraries don't just offer books any more - at our main City Library, they offer genealogy services, advice for small businesses, education facilities, conference space and a means of getting online. Deary needs to remember that not everyone has a computer at home, or they may not have an internet connection, and the only way for such people to get online is to use computers in a public space. Libraries are far nicer than internet cafes, and they can provide a lifeline to older people, giving them somewhere warm and welcoming to go to get them out of the house. Besides, if you need to get online and you have children, you can safely leave them in the children's section while you do your online errands. Without libraries, what would you do?

5) Other methods of obtaining books.

Really, if Deary is going to complain about libraries, then I'm assuming he also wants to see an end to secondhand bookshops, or books being sold in charity shops to raise money for good causes. Does he also want people to stop lending books to their friends? At least if people borrow from a library, he earns 6.2p every time they do so. If I bought one of his books at an Oxfam shop, he'd get nothing for it. In Deary World, do all people only buy their books from established bookshops? In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Deary's favourite historical event was the destruction of the library at Alexandria.

Hundreds of authors have rallied behind the cause to save libraries, recognising the universal need for access to information - if the comments section is anything to go by, then so do most readers of the Guardian. Yes, authors and publishers need to make money but I really don't think that books being available in libraries is going to cause enough of a dent in earnings to make it necessary to abolish libraries altogether. I seem to be quoting this more often than not lately but Deary needs to remember that "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one", and as long as we live in a society where the have-nots outnumber the haves, then we need to provide education and information in an accessible, affordable way. If Deary doesn't like that, then I might suggest a change of career to one that will bring him into contact with as few people as possible.